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Guilderland Archives — The Altamont Enterprise, July 14, 2011

Rafael Nieves mourned
Guilderland soldier killed in Afghanistan

By Melissa Hale-Spencer

GUILDERLAND — “Bright smile, big heart” — words used to describe Rafael A. Nieves Jr., the 22-year-old soldier who died in Afghanistan on July 10.

“He worked really hard. He struggled to get through school,” said Lisa Patierne, an assistant principal at Guilderland High School who worked with Spc. Nieves and admired his smile and heart. “He didn’t do things the easy way,” she said.

After living with his mother, Tina R. Roman, in New Jersey, he moved to Guilderland when he was 14 to live with his father, Rafael A. Nieves Sr. “He turned his life around,” said Ms. Patierne. “He married his high-school sweetheart.”

Spc. Nieves married another Guilderland High School student, Sarah A. McKinney. They have a young daughter, Emma Grace Nieves, and an infant son, Rafael A. Nieves III.

Specialist Nieves, an infantryman, was on a mounted patrol in Paktika Province in eastern Afghanistan, a remote, war-torn province bordering Pakistan, when, according to the United States Department of Defense, he died “of wounds suffered when enemy forces attacked his vehicle with small-arms and rocket-propelled grenade fires.”

As of Tuesday, 1,550 American soldiers had died in Afghanistan, including 1,287 like Spc. Nieves, killed in action, according to the Department of Defense.

Spc. Nieves had attended Guilderland High School from January 2005 to September 2007, said Ms. Patierne. “The traditional school environment was not easy for him,” she said. “We worked hard with him and with his father to help him.”

While at Guilderland, Spc. Nieves had a close-knit group of friends, which included his younger brother, Matthew. “His brother said he had talked about going into the military since he was a kid; that was what he always wanted to do,” said Ms. Patierne who had spoken with the family this week. He was due to come home in two weeks, she said.

Ms. Patierne described the family members as “still in shock” as they waited in Maryland on Monday for the return of his body. The family is planning to hold a service in New Jersey; the high school currently has no plans for a memorial service, she said.

Spc. Nieves earned his GED (General Education Diploma) from the State Education Department, said Ms. Patierne. He joined the Army in August 2009 and arrived at Fort Campbell in Kentucky in December 2009, according to the Department of Defense. His wife and children live in Oak Grove, Ky. Spc. Nieves was assigned to B Company, 1st Battalion, 506th Infantry Regiment, 4th Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault).

His awards and decorations include: Army Commendation Medal; Afghanistan Campaign Medal with Bronze Service Star; North Atlantic Treaty Organization Medal; National Defense Service Medal; Global War on Terrorism Service Medal; and Army Service Ribbon.

“I’m just so proud of how he got through and was on the right path,” said Ms. Patierne. “His brother said he was very happy….It’s just very sad that this is what had to happen.”

She also said, “As parents, as educators, you watch the news and you see these young boys and young ladies coming home this way, and it touches you. I have a hard time watching it when I don’t even know them. And the fact that you know this boy — or this man now, this man — you’ve worked with him and you had a relationship with him, it really makes the war hit home.”

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